Smartening up searching
GOING TO a search engine like Google and typing in a query may seem reasonably straightforward to the person doing the search, but presenting back a useful range of answers is increasingly complicated as Google endeavours to anticipate and then provide the answers people want.“It turns out to be really, really challenging to do a lot of this stuff,” says Jack Menzel, director of product management at Google Search.
Speaking from Google headquarters in California, he says: “We really want search to be able to answer any question that you could possibly have. You have something that you want to get done in the real world, and we want to facilitate that. So we want to answer any question, and to make it really easy to interact with the world’s information.”
Search historically has been about getting searchers to the right information source, he says. “We want to go a step further than that. We don’t want to just get you to the best page; we want to point you right into that best page. The kind of answer that you get from someone who really understands the topic and can get you right to the exact information that you want.”
Understanding the question – already a difficult bit of programming – is only part of the challenge. “You then need to understand what information is out there. And then, giving answers is easy – but giving correct answers is really, really hard.”
Sometimes a question can be ambiguous, with a range of different answers, depending on the context of the question. So, Google has to have precise modelling of words to understand that a simple query – such as typing the word “kings” into the Google search box – returns the most likely items. If you are in California, that means several sports teams, as well as links to a TV show of that name, come up at the top of the list.
Tackling this kind of contextual challenge is exactly what a newly introduced search feature called Knowledge Graph does. Originally available only in the US, the service recently launched here, and has over 500 million different entities modelled, using 3.5 billion defining attributes and connections.
Alongside it, Google has also just launched a related feature called Knowledge Carousel.
Knowledge Carousel presents a range of images across the top of the search results page, not for every search, but for certain kinds of searches that might have several categories of answer. For example, searchers for “Disneyland rides” tend to then click in to individual rides in the results. Now, with Knowledge Carousel, the searcher is presented with a row of images across the top, each of a different ride.